Friday, September 18, 2009

Out with a Bang!!!

Well, thats it. My time on the Farnes is over. After 6 fantastic months at at one of the most amazing places in the world, i've moved back down South to start a degree in Ecology and Wildlife Conservation at Bournemouth University.
The Autumn had been really slow migrant-wise on the islands until this last week, and then it all went absolutely mental. Last Friday, a Minke Whale cruised North between the islands and the mainlands, and I managed to get decent views of this dinky whale and secure a British cetacean tick. We were all really happy with that, but what happened next blew us all away. On Sunday, the skipper of a dive boat gave us a call to alert us to a Humpback Whale off Longstone, the most easterly of the island group. Frustratingly, Longstone was blocking our view so we sped out in the zodiac to the Big Harcar to get a clearer view. By the time we got there the beast had moved a fair way to the North but we were still treated to the incredible sight of this 40-ton monster breaching clean out of the water, and coming down with an almighty splash. As far as worldwide wildlife spectacles go, witnessing this behaviour has got to rate up near the top, so to observe it in British waters was just phenomonal, definately the highlight of my year so far.

Surely things couldnt get any better, but on monday they surely did. A quick trip over to Staple Island ib the morning revealed a Barred Warbler lumbering around the sparse vegetation, a long awaited first of the year on what has become a very reliable site for this species on recent years.

A seawatch soon after saw good numbers of Manxies passing close by, and then unbelievably, more cetaceans, this time 3+ Risso's Dolphins that lingered off the South end of the Islands for c10 minutes, giving good views of their tall dorsal fins and scarred bodies, proving that they really are so much more than 'gay sharks'. The Risso's were a cetacean world tick for me, so I was feeling pretty bloody happy.
An hour or so later, David Steel and Jason Moss, the 2 birders on Inner Farne, came over to have alook at the Barred Warbler with us. At one point, the Warbler flew a short distance and dropped into a weedy gulley, only for another bird to jump out onto the rocks, a Bluethroat!!!!

Quality stuff, having birded Staple thoroughly earlier, this was clearly a new bird in, something mega wa happening. Inspired by this, we drove out to Longstone, where we greeted by a Goldcrest, 2 Willow Warblers and 2 Lesser Whitethroats scarmbling around on the seaweed, and then, a Common Rosefinch appeared too, this was just getting better and better.

It was starting to get dark by now, so headed back to Brownsman to celebrate a superb day. As we walked up towards the cottage, a chunky, pale bird flew up from the nettles at our feet. As it flew away, I knew immediately that it was a bird I had never seen before, it just looked wierd. luckily it landed on the wall of the veg garden, bins up, and, BLACK-HEADED BUNTING, HOLY SHIT!!!! The bird dropped down behind the wall straight away, leaving us rolling around on the ground, punching the air and generally going apeshit until we realised that we really ought to crack on with the ardous task of ruling out Red-headed Bunting. The bird showed well on the ground before flying back to wall giving us great views through the scope and allowing me to grab some record shots in the gloom.

The black streaks on the crown, shadow of a black-face and rufous tint to the scapulars are all spot on for Black-headed Bunting. Some books are pretty useless when it comes to identifying immature black/red-headed bunts but it seems that with good views there shouldnt be too much of a problem.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cor, he's a Shearwater

With a 3-4 West-nor-west this morning, and no new migrants on the land, along with an overnight departure of yesterdays birds (including the Icky), I settled down for a morning of data entry on the computer (a big job when you have as many seabird nests to monitor as we do). Just minutes after turing on the computer, Head Warden David Steele called us on the radio to warn us that some lads seawatching down the coast at Newbiggin had just had a Cory's Shearwater heading North. Myself and fellow brownsman warden Adam Scott needed no further excuses to abandon work (come on, it's a Saturday) and headed down to the seawatching spot at the Brownsman South End. It wasnt looking good, with the few manxies that were moving being very far out and with the morning sun right in our faces, we weren't feeling overly confident that we would get the bird.
After an hour, the sky started to cloud over things were looking a little easier, maybe we had a chance. 80 minutes after the Newbiggin sighting, a sudden radio shout from Inner Farne, they had the bird and it was heading our way. After a few frantic seconds searching through distant manxies, the beast loomed into view no more than 300 metres offshore, and slowly sauntered past, giving me my best views ever of this awesome seabird. it showed so well that I was able to pass the scope on to Adam, giving him great views of a British Tick and I even managed to grab a few photos that could just possibly be classed as 'record shots'.
This was an excellent example of how good communication between coastal sites can allow plenty of people to enjoy great birds like this, so many thanks to the guys down at Newbiggin, Cheers Lads!!!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Icky at last!!

Well, I had been hoping to update this blog quite frequently this autumn with tales of rares and mega falls on the Farnes, however to be perfectly blunt, the autumn thus far has been absolute shit, no two ways about it.
Like the rest of the country, we've been dominated by howling westerlies and clear skies, which for an east-coast site like us is a total waste of time.
At long last, wednesday night and thursday morning gave us a brief spell of easterlies, as the wind direction backed a full 300 odd degrees to the nor-westerlies we're stuck in now. Yesterday (thursday) was quite an exciting day, with The Farnes beating its record day counts for Teal and Swallow, with 894 and 248 north respectively, along with the first Ruff and Goosander of the year. However it failed to produce any of the much anticipated rares, just a few commoner land migrants. And then the Nor-westerly picked up to Severe Gale Force 9 and driving rain all night and all this morning, effectively the end of any rare hopes.
Still, us wardens on the mighty Brownsman don't give up that easily and a most un-pleasant walk in horiffic weather this morning was rewarded with brief looks at a nice Icterine Warbler trying to shelter in the sparse vegetation by our pond.
Luckily the weather cleared up this afternoon and we were able to get excellent views of this eastern scarcity feeding in typical Farnes fashion on open rocks and then in our artifical 'stick' (a bundle of driftwood nailed together to look like a tree!'

I've only got 2 weeks left on the Farnes before moving off to pastures new (watch this space!!!), so i'm desperately hoping for some easterly orientated weather conditions to bring in a few more goodies before I leave, fingers crossed eh.